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Critical Skills Every Subject Matter Expert Needs During a BPO Transition

Getting the transition process right in a BPO engagement can make all the difference in how well it works for your company. These BPO engagements begin with the client compiling, organizing, and sharing its knowledge, data, and history relating to the function being outsourced and then transitioning its operations to the BPO provider. And to support the transition phase, BPO providers offer a team of functional and technical specialists. The best have already led multiple client transitions and have a wealth of knowledge and experience.
But while it is critically important for the customer to put together a comparable team, buy-side organizations often struggle to identify and assign equally skilled counterparts on their end. Understanding this is a key first step in ensuring a smooth transition to the BPO relationship, and that starts with putting the right knowledge transfer subject matter expert in place. This BPO Transition SME will be vital throughout the process.
Unfortunately, subject matter expertise alone cannot be he only criteria used to identify this person. In practice, the responsibility of your BPO Transition SME expands will include training, change management, and many other duties. And these types of skills may not be typically found in general subject matter experts within a buying organization.
Common BPO Subject Matter Expert Misconceptions
Because the selection process of a BPO Transition Subject Matter Expert can be time-consuming, it is best to prepare early — even before the BPO contract is signed. Defining selection criteria, evaluating resource gaps, and developing measures to ensure you have qualified personnel should be done early in the process.
Prepping in advance can also help to address two common misconceptions, namely that a BPO Transition SME is no different than an in-house SME (“We already have SMEs, we’ll just use one of them to lead this project”) and that the only viable candidates for BPO Transition SMEs are those who volunteer for the job. Falling prey to these misconceptions or failing to adequately prepare in advance can result in placing the BPO transition at risk before it even begins.
To identify the right BPO Transition SME candidates and thus maximize your BPO knowledge transfer success, organizations should keep three the following selection criteria in mind.
Criteria #1: Favor “know-how” over “know-what”
There is a difference between “know-how” (e.g., how a process works) and “know-what” (e.g., what a process does). The advantage of those with know-how comes from the “tribal knowledge,” or tips and tricks they are aware of and can share with future delivery teams as part of transition training. While BPO delivery teams prefer to receive training by those with the know-how, they sometimes become paired with the know-what group — better known as managers of the function in question who often only have a high-level knowledge of the activity.
Managers can mistakenly be selected to provide subject matter expertise during a BPO transition, which may lead to incomplete and ineffective knowledge transfer. With limited time for knowledge transfer, the focus should be on standard operating procedures (SOPs), which are often better communicated by individuals from the know-how group (e.g., SMEs).
Criteria #2: Seek a broad set of soft skills
Communication skills are critical for a BPO Transition SME. This person will be most effective if they are able to describe activities in a clear and concise manner. And they must be assertive when asking questions to confirm that trainees understand the subject, comfortable in following-up with comments, and quick to identify and address issues.
The BPO Transition SME should also be open to new challenges, have a positive attitude and be a team player. Because change management plays a pivotal role in a successful transition, an in-house SME who has previously exhibited such attributes might be one to place at the top of your list of candidates for the BPO Transition SME role.
Another consideration is the training method for your BPO transition. For example, classroom-style training may require the BPO Transition SME to be comfortable standing in front of a large group to lead or direct certain components of training. In such cases, candidates whose training experiences and capabilities are limited to one-on-one interactions may not be the best fit. Awareness and early detection of potential issues related to a lack of “soft” skills will help you refine your list of candidates.
If your current pool of candidates does not exhibit these attributes, you likely will need to supplement the team with additional resources who can compensate for these gaps, or alternatively, widen the net to identify individuals who possess these skills and train sufficiently in advance. While more challenging to implement, another option to consider could be temporarily re-enlisting a former staff member who may have moved to another part of the organization but still possesses the know-how for your BPO transition.
Criteria #3: Consider the BPO Transition SME’s role in the post-transition organization
Proactively identifying key players and planning for future staffing needs allows an organization to share potential longer-term opportunities up-front with BPO Transition SMEs. This can help those resources better understand some of the options they may have for future roles in the organization post-transition, even if those new roles may be unrelated to their current role.
For example, the BPO Transition SME may be able to further contribute post-transition by becoming a “Sourcing Liaison,” playing the role of a dedicated resource managing the outsourced activity (in the case of a staff augmentation delivery model). Or they may help by moving into a formal governance leadership role while managing and maintaining the outsourcing relationship over the long-term. This can create a powerful incentive for such individuals to stay motivated throughout the duration of the transition since they will be less likely to be distracted with searching for a job outside of the organization as a result of their solidified connection to the future business.
As successful knowledge transfer is a critical component to ensuring long-term BPO engagement success, organizations should take the time to identify and assemble strong and effective BPO Transition SMEs. These individuals must meet specific criteria with proven qualifications to support effective BPO transitions and can ultimately serve as a long-term asset to the organization.

Alexandra Charpentier

Alexandra Charpentier is an associate at Pace Harmon, an outsourcing advisory firm with offices in Washington, San Francisco, and Chicago.

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